Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has confirmed the detention of a fourth Australian in China in connection with the nationwide blitz on Crown Resorts’ activities on the Chinese mainland.
The fourth Australian is not a Crown employee but is being held along with the 18 staff detained on “gambling crimes” earlier this month, three of whom are Australian nationals.
“There are now four Australians involved, three are Crown employees and a fourth person we have learnt is not a Crown employee but is detained along with them,” Ms Bishop told the ABC on Sunday.
She said it had taken time to negotiate consular access for some of the Australians detained because they held more than one passport.
“We are also providing consular assistance to them. This has taken some time because some of them are dual citizens – Australian-Chinese – and it has to be determined whether they entered China on their Australian or Chinese passport and whether they will be treated by the Chinese authorities as Chinese or Australian. We have determined all four will be treated as Australian citizens.”
China does not recognise dual nationality, but it is not uncommon for some emigrants to retain their passports and not formally renounce their Chinese citizenship, to avoid having to apply for visas when they return to the mainland for work or family reasons.
It is unclear whether the fourth person is among a number of junket operators – who recommend and arrange trips for Chinese high-rollers to Crown – detained at the same time as the Crown employees.
As revealed by Fairfax Media on Saturday, at least two of the junket agents detained, who operated independently from Crown’s marketing staff, work for Toorak-based Zhou Jiuming, one of Crown Casino’s most lucrative junkets.
A significant number of Crown customers have also been questioned, it is understood.
Communications documenting the movement of millions of dollars are also in the hands of mainland authorities following Chinese police’s seizure of the computers, laptops and mobile phones of those detained.
Ms Bishop said Chinese law allowed for suspects to be detained for a maximum of 37 days without charge. She said her department did not have further information as to what charges those in detention might face.
“It is hard to know,” Ms Bishop said. “We don’t have the details of why they are being held and what potential charges they face. It is clearly to do with gambling, which is illegal in China but there are exceptions when it comes to Macau.
“It may well be part of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign involving government officials,” she said.
The detentions come amid a sweeping anti-corruption crackdown in mainland China that has targeted the illicit flow of capital overseas through underground banks and casinos, particularly in the gaming enclave of Macau.
Foreign casino operators have pulled their China-based marketing staff following the Crown detentions.
“I am sure every casino operator around the world is watching this case closely,” Ms Bishop said.
“This will have implications but until such time as we know precisely what they’re facing, it would be counterproductive of me to speculate.”
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